I have never been a fan of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney or of President Andrew Jackson who nominated him, but I nonetheless am concerned that personal opposition to the Dred Scott decision is obscuring the proper role of the Supreme Court (“Hogan and Taney,” Aug. 21). The role of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution. Many Supreme Court decisions have been controversial and that is still the current reality.
Justices, the public and constitutional scholars can disagree on the merits of individual decisions. However, I think there is no historical question that if the convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution had included articles that freed the slaves and granted citizenship to former slaves, the draft would not have been approved by the convention nor would it have been possible to obtain ratification from the states. In fact, there were individuals at the convention who preferred outlawing slavery, but they also knew there was no possibility the convention as a whole would have agreed.
It was not the role of Chief Justice Taney, and all but two of the other justices, to amend or rewrite the Constitution. From the perspective of the Constitution at that time, it can, I believe, be argued that the Dred Scott decision reflected the Constitution as of 1857. It took a Civil War and amendments to accomplish what Dred Scott was seeking. When the phrase “all men are created equal” was first proclaimed, the popular understanding did not extend that equality to those who were slaves and obviously not politically equal.
Again, it would take a Civil War and amendments to correct that. Mr. Taney did not side with Confederacy and he did free his slaves in his lifetime. I personally disagree with his Jacksonian political philosophy, but no other Marylander served the federal government as attorney general, secretary of treasury and acting secretary of war and chief justice. He earned recognition.
David H. Pardoe, Ellicott City
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